A Guide to VoIP: Introduction

VoIP technology (Voice Over Internet Protocol) consists in the use of the internet to convey a particular type of traffic: the digitalised speech of a telephone conversation. Since it has become possible to send any type of information through the internet, VoIP is not really anything revolutionary: If we look at text chatting and instant messaging (such as ICQ, IRC, MSN Messenger and, more recently, Yahoo!) we see that it has already been possible for years for two or more users to exchange data in real time.
Therefore, if there are two or more people who wish to communicate, and the network is able to sustain the delivery of an audio signal, not much more is needed to manage a real telephone call. First of all, the exchange must be two-way and in real time. A few minutes wait is acceptable in the case of a file download, but for a telephone call, a continuous two-way flow is needed, with as little delay as possible. For this reason, the bandwidth necessary to carry the audio needs to be compatible with the speed of the internet connection.
This can be achieved in two ways: by increasing the bandwidth of the network connection or by reducing the requirements for the transport of the audio signal. In the first case you must rely on more advanced (and therefore more expensive) technologies for connection to the internet, while in the second case you have to use speech compression and tolerate a certain loss of signal quality. What has happened over recent years, making the diffusion of VoIP possible, has been a combination of these two processes. On the one hand, the spread of broadband connections has led to an increase in network speed, on the other, the adoption of more efficient audio signal compression techniques has reduced the need for resources. This two-fold development has given access to telephone services via internet to an increasingly large number of people. Recently the use of VoIP has spread considerably among call shops, thanks to its extremely competitive international rates.
The last, and perhaps most important element for the success of VoIP, is the availability of cheap and easy to use devices, which do not require specialised knowledge and which often use the same procedures as normal analogue telephones, thereby putting the user totally at ease with the new technology. On the internet today there is a huge increase in the number of new devices, both hardware and software, that let you use VoIP to communicate. The market offers solutions to a great variety of profiles of use, ranging from large companies with offices all around the world down to the individual user. It is necessary, therefore, to become familiar with the various devices that use VoIP and to be informed on the offers of the commercial providers, distinguishing between free services and those for which the provider charges a fee. The cost difference between the solutions of the traditional telephone service and VoIP has created a space today where many providers are competing fiercely to attract customers.


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